A group of teens are stalked by a masked killer
using horror films as part of a deadly game.
Directed by Wes Craven
Written by Kevin Williamson
Starring Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, Skeet Ulrich,
David Arquette, Matthew Lillard, Rose McGowan,
Jamie Kennedy, Henry Winkler, Drew Barrymore
Ah, the 90's. If you're of my generation, we all look back fondly on this decade. The clothes, music, and slang are all remembered with reverence. There were some great horror flicks too like The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Tremors (1990), and Nightbreed (1990). What there wasn't a lot of were slashers, an all but dead subgenre. Candyman burst onto the scene in 1992. Chucky was hanging around with sequels in '90, '91, and '98. The Halloween franchise was chugging along, with Part 6 (1995) and reinvention of the series when H2O (1998) was put out. That release came on the heels of Scream.
Hollywood loves to follow trends and ride the waves of a successful film. It is a monkey see, monkey do game as executives try to replicate formulas and tweak them just enough to not get sued. To give you an idea how influential this film was, teen-centric horror films flooded the market in the wake of Scream. Flicks like I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997), Disturbing Behavior (1998), and The Faculty (1998) all used some part of the formula set out in Kevin Williamson's script. Oh, and he also created Dawson's Creek (which I skipped school occasionally to do extra work for, as it was shot in my hometown of Wilmington, NC).
The story is simple enough. Sidney (Campbell) is still reeling from the death of her mother the previous year and the uncomfortable fallout into tabloid exploitation. The students of Woodsboro are gripped by fear as a killer has emerged and they start wondering who it is. As the bodies pile up, Sidney realizes someone is coming after her and it's a cat and mouse game until the end. Where Scream excels is in its deconstruction of the tropes and rules of the slasher. Acknowledging them and bending or breaking them at will to craft a self-reflexive jab at a genre not known for its intelligence. This film may have flopped in another director's hands but it didn't because it was brought to life by one of the great horror directors who had already peeled back the veil on his own slasher just two years prior: Wes Craven.
This is a movie that, if you haven't seen it already, you might not get its importance because it has been copied so much. I was fortunate enough to watch this in theaters and was blown away by what I saw. Seeing Drew Barrymore, an actor I grew up watching, get dispatched so quickly conjures up the shock that audiences felt when Janet Leigh was killed in Psycho. That moment sets the tone for the entire film and let's you know a master is pulling the strings. Scream is one of Craven's best and a testament to his intelligence as a director and Master of Horror. He would go on to direct three more sequels before his passing in 2015 at 76. The legacy of this film is unquestionable and it has become part of pop culture and horror history.
Scream quickly became one of the most significant films in the horror genre, becoming arguably a pillar of 90's horror. It was Wes Craven's comeback movie, and started his most financially and critically succesful franchise. And it's easy to see why. Even if you know who the killer is, and most horror fans do, these films are still so much fun to watch. The scares are good, the atmosphere is tense, and the characters are well-written and unforgettable. And then there's that face. The now iconic and often parodied Ghostface, who is up there with Freddy and Jason in terms of pop culture importance.
The Scream franchise revolves around Sidney Prescott (Campbell), a teenage girl whose mother was murdered one year prior to the events of the film. The killer wants her dead, as well as everyone she cares about. We won't know why until the end, and the reasons just keep coming as the franchise progresses. Sidney is a good protagonist. She's smart, resourceful, and doesn't let Ghostface take her down without a fight. She's a big part of why this film and subsequent franchise is so enjoyable. And then there's the incredibly ballsy opening sequence, where big name star Drew Barrymore is butchered in the first fifteen minutes. Right from the beginning, you knew this was going to be something new and exciting.
Scream is a brilliant horror flick that uses the fans' love of horror movie trivia as a narrative function. Everyone in the film is horror movie savvy, meaning they know the rules and they try to act in a way that won't get them killed. It's such a meta way to do a film, and it really works. I enjoy Scream and the sequels all bring something just as fun to the table.